Staying physically active
Keeping physically active not only improves your health and quality of life, it can also help you to live longer - and it's never too late to start doing some exercise
Physical activity means anything from everyday tasks, like cleaning the house, heavy gardening or walking the dog. Or specific exercise like keep fit, swimming, golf, football, gym-based activity or tennis. The best type of activity is one that makes you feel slightly warmer and breathe a bit heavier, getting your heart and pulse pumping faster than usual.
Some of the benefits of keeping active include:
- a reduced risk of developing a life-threatening disease
- a greater likelihood of maintaining or reaching a healthy weight
- a greater sense of well-being
- improved sleep and increased day-time vitality
If you stay physically active, you're also likely to stay independent longer. Exercise can make you stronger. You'll feel more confident and involved in life.
Remember, before beginning a new exercise regime, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor first. Your GP is also a good place to start to learn about exercise for your health.
The risks of physical inactivity
Inactivity puts you at greater risk of:
- heart disease
- some cancers
- osteoporosis, leading to fractures (half the number of hip fractures could be avoided with regular physical activity)
- obesity and related health problems
If you haven't done any exercise for years - and it's estimated that four out of 10 people over 50 do little or no exercise - then start gently and build up gradually. If you're exercising for the first time or are unsure if you should try a particular activity, talk to your GP.
Experts recommend thirty minutes of moderate exercise a day at least five times a week. It can be all in one half- hour, or split into three periods of ten minutes or in smaller bouts of activity throughout your day.
A good starting point may be to begin with a short five-minute brisk walk in your local park. Then build up gradually, increasing slowly to the full 30 minutes over a number of weeks. Walking is great for your health and there are hundreds of walking groups open to all ages around the country.
There is no reason to give up a sport or exercise you enjoy just because you are getting older. You should aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five or more times a week. Even if you haven't been particularly athletic at a younger age, there are many benefits of improved fitness as you get older. Remember to keep moving and retain your mobility and flexibility through daily activity as well.
If you're in your 80s or 90s, regular, gentle exercise can help retain muscle strength and improve mobility. Through daily activity you can retain mobility and flexibility.
It's easy to boost your physical activity without making huge changes to your lifestyle. You can begin by incorporating it into your everyday life with little effort or planning. You can:
- walk up stairs - don't use the lift or escalator
- get off the bus or train a stop or two earlier to walk home or to work
- spend more time enjoying active interests, like gardening or golf
- leave the car at home more
- clean the car by hand
- vacuum the house
- use email less and walk around your office to talk to people instead
There are lots of other ways to stay fit. You could take up a weekly Tai Chi class, play bowls, go swimming, ramble or cycle.
In some areas, your local council might offer free or cut-price gym-based exercise at the local sports or leisure centre.
You can find out more from the Sport Northern Ireland website.